July 6, 2018

What is Vision?

Years ago when I was challenged to find my own Vision, I immediately faced a dilemma: I really didn’t know what Vision was. Sure, had a vague idea but I could not define, identify or even understand it.
I had this notion that it was some sort of creative ability that you were either born with or not. This caused me great apprehension as I set about to find it: I feared that I might be one of those unfortunate individuals who did not “have it.” That scared me enough that I actually questioned if I wanted to go down this path: what if I discovered that I didn’t have a Vision?
Well, I did go down the discovery path and I did find my Vision. With that discovery I learned something very important:
We all have a Vision, every one of us is born with one. Unfortunately for many of us, and this was my case, it can become buried when we conform, follow the rules and value other people’s opinions more than our own. For some of us, me again, my Vision was so buried for so long that I came to believe that I didn’t have one.
But I did and so do you.
Here’s how I describe Vision:
Or put another way by a French philosopher:
Vision seems so simple to me now, but I remember back when I was searching for it, it seemed so complex!
When in reality it is such a simple formula:
Here’s another way to describe Vision:
Imagine if you took all of your beliefs, knowledge and experiences and blended them together…
…and then took that mixture and cast lenses…
…that you then used to see the world through…that is your Vision. It is simply how you see the world through the lenses of your life experiences.
Vision is not something I can point to, identify or describe just as I cannot describe my personality, because it’s too multi-faceted and complex. Sure I can describe parts of my personality, such as “sometimes I can be moody,” but that does not come close to describing my complete personality.
My Vision is comprised of many beliefs, experiences, teachings, preferences, prejudices, likes and dislikes. You might think of Vision as your photographic personality. This personality affects where I point my camera, how I expose the image and then process it.
Let me give an example. Each year when I visit Death Valley I avoid the “iconic shots.” Why? Because part of my personality, and hence my Vision, is to not follow the crowd.
Zabriskie Point by James Brandon
So when I see that everyone creating images from Zabriskie Point that look like this, then I’ll not be doing the same thing.
Photographers lined up to photograph Zabriskie at dawn
Likewise, when I see everyone pointing their cameras in the same direction, my reaction is to look in the opposite direction to see what they might be missing.
As I photographed at Zabriskie Point, here are some of my photographic personality traits that affected how I saw things:
  • I avoid the iconic shots
  • I don’t like doing what everyone else is doing
  • I like creating something unique
  • I love dark, high contrast b&w images
  • I prefer abstracts over realistic landscapes


Time No. 2

And so while everyone was photographing the iconic color scene to the west, I turned my attention to the east and created Time No. 2. All of those little photographic personality traits that make up my Vision allowed me to see something unique and different from what the others were seeing.
And you, with a different Vision, would probably have created something entirely different also. That’s the beauty of Vision, there are 7,596,362,764 unique Visions in the world! Yes, we all have one, even non-photographers.
So what is Vision?
It is the sum total of your life experiences, it is the lenses you see the world through, it is your photographic personality and it is your inner voice (or the “force” for you Star Wars fans).
There is no need to be able to define, identify or describe your Vision. All you really need to know is that your Vision is there and then follow it.

1 thought on “What is Vision?

  1. Cole,
    I searched for “vision” on your blog website and see lots of essays. I have many more to read, but I just want to say that this essay is really helpful. I like the idea of photographic personality traits, and being able to describe and be aware of some of them from time to time, yet knowing our personality cannot really be fully described. I think your suggestion (in another of your blogs) to find 100 images in my portfolio that I really love will help me see some of these traits of mine.
    I love the two opening quotes too. They remind me of a a magnet on my refrigerator: “we don’t see the world as it is, but as we are”. A long way of saying HySt.
    Thanks for this essay!

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